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In English, we say "practice makes perfect" to indicate that practice of a skill leads to mastery. So a Latin teacher might attempt to inspire a student to diligence by saying "Write out these declensions 50 times. Practice makes perfect."

What is an idiomatic way of saying this phrase in Latin, preferably Classical Latin? I notice that Wikipedia lists a phrase, usus est magister optimus, to mean this, but a search for that phrase in the Classical corpus comes back with nothing. Is this the best option available?

  • One option would be repetitio est mater studiorum. This appears to be postclassical, and is of unknown origin according to my dictionary. Let's hope someone finds a suitable phrase in the classical literature. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 6 '16 at 7:34
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I'm surprised to find that apparently usus facit magistrum isn't attested until the XIX century. However:

Usus est magister optimus,

was actually first written by Cicero (Rab. Post. 4). Note that googling the sentence with quotes gives 65K+ results.

Variants include alternative word orders and later statements such as usus facit habitum, usus facit artem and even a couple of exercitatio facit habitum.

A less direct phrase, although arguably more idiomatic may be:

Gutta cavat lapidem non vi sed saepe cadendo,

the first part being written by Ovid (Pont. 4.10), and the second one added in medieval times (according to WP) and recorded by Giordano Bruno in The Torchbearer.

Actually my Latin professor used gutta cavat lapidem... to encourage us to study.

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There's a phrase used by the pharmacist Homais in Gustav Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary':

"Fabricando fit faber, age quod agis"

Which translates as "Practice makes perfect" or, more literally, "It is by making that you become a maker, whatever it is that you do."

I can't speak for how historically accurate it may be / how good Flaubert's Latin was.

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Another Ciceronian option, which I just stumbled across and which reminded me of this question, is from De Oratore, "Demosthenes perfecit meditando ut nemo planius locutus esse putaretur" (Demosthenes by practicing achieved the result that no was thought to have spoken more clearly). Perhaps Meditando perficitur would suit. The two words perfecit meditando are almost a calque of the English phrase, and yet are attested classically.

Not classically attested, but an old saw which means almost exactly what I mean when I say "Practice makes perfect" is Repetita juvant, doing things again and again helps.

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